Monday, December 28, 2009

Get Your Chewy Mall Pretzel Fix at Home

If you think these are the worst looking pretzels you've ever seen, you're right. How do those high schoolers at the pretzel place in the mall get theirs looking so good? I think I need lessons.

Mangled appearance notwithstanding, these pretzels are great. I got the recipe from Food Network Magazine.  They're supposed to be a clone of Auntie Anne's pretzels.  I'd say they're pretty close.  And while this recipe calls for brown sugar, I've seen some that call for powdered sugar.  Might be worth a try.  

Chewy Mall Pretzels
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/3 cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's about 110 degrees; pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, about 2 minutes; stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup flour with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter and soften; stir into the mix. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and the fine salt to make a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes.) Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope, holding the ends and slapping the middle of the rope on the counter as you stretch. Form each rope into a pretzel shape.  Or hire one of those Auntie Anne's kids to come into your home and work their pretzel magic.

Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups warm water in a shallow baking dish. Gently dip each pretzel in the soda solution, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish. Dip the hot pretzels in the butter, turning to coat; place on a wire rack to let excess butter drip off.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cozy Meals: Beef Stew

When it's cold, I like things that are cozy: sweaters, blankets, fireplaces.  I also like cozy food, and beef stew is the coziest there is.  Thick broth, soft potatoes, onions so cooked they nearly disappear.  Pair it up with just-from-the-oven bread and it's the best winter-time supper you could make.

While I've never been able to replicate my mom's beef stew recipe (I think the secret is a pressure cooker, and those things scare me), I tried a great recipe from Dixie Caviar last week.

Two tips: If you've got a smaller Dutch oven (like my 4.5 quart model), be prepared for a very full pot.  I followed the recipe closely, maybe adding an extra handful of vegetables, and I couldn't have slipped another carrot in if I tried.  And if you can be patient, make this stew one day and serve it the next.  The broth, in particular, is so much richer after it's had a chance to rest a bit, and the flavors meld really nicely.

I made a pretty simple batch of yeast rolls as a side but a nice country bread would be good, too, and my mom used to serve pumpkin bread with hers — it's like supper and dessert all at once.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Back: The Christmas-Time Pumpkin Roll

I realize I've posted about pumpkin roll before, but if you'll indulge me, I'd like to remind you about how pumpkin roll is the perfect holiday food.  A little sponge cake.  A little cream cheese goodness.  A little fancy.  A bit hit all around.

If you'd like to roll out one of your own, you can find the recipe on my previous post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pumpkin Fudge: The Best Way to Eat Your Vegetables

Okay, maybe pumpkin isn't really a vegetable.  (It's a berry!  Did you know that??)  So in that case, pumpkin fudge is a great way to eat your berries.

I found this recipe two years ago in The Progressive Farmer — which, while not my go-to recipe magazine, hit the nail on the head with this one.

Unlike a dense chocolate fudge, pumpkin fudge has a nice, light texture.  The pumpkin isn't overwhelming — in fact, next time I might try adding a little more.  And I skipped the nuts when I made my batch, but the fine folks at The Progressive Farmer suggest folding in some toasted, chopped pecans.

Also, be warned: there's a lot of stirring involved.  I like to keep the mixture moving with one hand and use the other to hold up a good book — usually one about food.

Pumpkin Fudge
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. butter, melted
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 2 T. light corn syrup
  • 1 t. pumpkin pie spice
  • 12 oz. white chocolate chips
  • 7 oz. marshmallow creme
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil.  Grease the foil and set aside.

Stir together the sugar, butter, milk, pumpkin, corn syrup and pie spice in a large, heavy saucepan.  Heat on medium-high, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture reaches soft-ball stage (there are a few ways to measure this, but I like to use a thermometer, and soft-ball stage is about 234 degrees F), remove from heat.  Stir in the chips, creme and extract and mix until well blended.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Let stand 2 hours or until completely cool and hardened.  Makes about 3 lbs.

The food: Pumpkin fudge
The verdict: The Progressive Farmer comes up with a winner

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chipotle Peanut Brittle: A Crazy Take on a Traditional Christmas Treat

I like traditional things.  When it came time for school pictures and my classmates were selecting backdrops with neon lasers and other sweet lighting effects, I said, "I'll just sit in front of that gray canvas, please."  When I was planning my wedding and several magazines suggested I write my own love-infused vows and perform a complicated-yet-symbolic ritual involving pouring sand from one glass into another, I said, "How about we just stick with the 'til death do you part, I do' stuff."  And when I make a classic traditional treat like peanut brittle, I say, "Give me my grandmother's recipe and no funny business, mister."

But when I found this recipe for peanut brittle with chipotle, I admit it: I was curious.  So I made a batch for Ben to take to a football viewing party.  And I'm proud to report that in this case, I'm willing to part with tradition.  At least once in a while.  

Peppery peanut brittle is pretty interesting.  At first, you don't really taste anything different about it.  But as you're chewing, the smoky spiciness sneaks up on you and your mouth gets zinged.  It's quite a feeling.

If you're heading off to a holiday party soon and need a treat to take (or a hostess gift), this peanut brittle would be a fun, unexpected choice. And it beats fruit cake.

Chipotle chile powder probably isn't available everywhere, but I was able to find a McCormick-brand jar of it at Harris Teeter. I'd avoid regular old chile powder, since the real beauty of this recipe is the smokiness. I guess you could substitute regular chile powder and liquid smoke if you wanted. Let me know how that goes.

If you don't already have a candy thermometer, you'll need one for this recipe. (The recipe developer suggests cooking times, but it took me less time to reach the specified temperatures than suggested.) And when you add in the peanuts toward the end, don't be afraid when the mixture seizes up on you. Keep heating and stirring. It will soften and liquefy again.

Non-Traditional, Smoky Spicy Chipotle Peanut Brittle (from the estimable Cooking Light)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light-colored corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 11.5 ounces of salted, dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper; coat with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook 18 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 275°, stirring frequently. Add peanuts; cook 3 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 295°, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and chile powder. (The baking soda will cause the mixture to bubble and become opaque.  This is cool.)

Quickly pour mixture onto prepared pan.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll mixture to an even thickness. Discard top parchment sheet. Cool mixture completely; break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

The food: Chipotle peanut brittle
The verdict: A good blend of spicy, smoky and sweet

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hush Puppies: The Deen Boys' Half-Baked Idea

Here in the South, barbecue (a noun, not a verb) is a very serious thing.  And the perfect barbecue accompaniment?  The hush puppy -- a dollop of cornmeal batter fried and served hot and crunchy.

I love hush puppies, but I don't love frying (the mess!  the smell!) so I'd never made them.  Then I found this recipe from the Deen brothers, sons of Paula Deen the Butter Queen.  And the Deen boys suggested baking, not frying, these Southern delecasies.

Easier, yes.  Healthier, yes.  Real hush puppies?  No.

Which is not to say that these little bites weren't tasty, because they were.  Kind of like a butterier, onionier version of corn bread.  But if you were hoping for the crunchy outer shell of a hush puppy (and I was) you were out of luck.

When you're eating, texture counts just as much as flavor, and these were hush puppies perhaps in taste but not in texture.  They're good in a pinch, and I'll make them again, but for the real thing, I'd recommend a trip to one of the fine barbecue joints that dot the North Carolina landscape.  (And if you're in Raleigh, I'd suggest you start at The Pit.)

Baked Hush Puppies (Courtesy of those wacky Deen brothers)
  • 2/3 c. cornmeal
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1/2 c. onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 T. butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a 24-cup mini muffin pan.

Combine all of the dry ingredients.  Separately, combine the onion, milk, eggs and butter.  Fold the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just blended.

Spoon 1 T of batter into each cup, then bake for 10 minutes or until the hush puppies are set and golden around the edges.

The food: Baked hush puppies
The verdict: Healthy, easy, but not a real hush puppy

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Snack Attack: The Olive-Cream Cheese-Triscuit Combo

One of the joys of working from home is that I can make my lunch as it suits me -- no more brown bag specials.  (As you can imagine, this is also one of the dangers of working from home.)  Lately, I've been taking a snacks-as-meals approach to lunch, having a little of this and a little of that.

My current favorite treat: a roasted garlic Triscuit with a schmear of chive cream cheese topped with a single salty Kalamata olive.  I could eat them by the plateful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Honey-Glazed Carrots: A Little Sweet, A Little Sour

Like Bugs Bunny and Mr. Ed, I appreciate a good carrot.  I like them raw and cooked.  I like them in dip.  And in butter.  And I like them glazed.

My favorite glazed carrot recipe is a little sweet and a little sour.  And the carrots, while cooked, retain a lot of their crunch, so they're fun to eat.  This is a pretty basic recipe, but if you wanted to get all crazy, you could add a little ginger or rosemary.

Sweet and Sour Glazed Carrots
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced into fairly thin disks
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 3 T. white wine or apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large skillet and add carrots.  Cook over medium-high heat for about three minutes.  Add broth, honey and vinegar; season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.  Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.  Uncover and cook over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced and syrupy, about 8 minutes.  Season again, if needed, and serve warm.

The food: Sweet and sour glazed carrots
The verdict: A swell way to serve carrots -- and keep them crunchy